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Stellar effort on free-throw line lifts UCLA past Pitt

Mar 23, 2007 - 8:29 AM SAN JOSE, California (Ticker) -- While both UCLA and Pittsburgh may be defensively similar, the Bruins stepped it up at the free-throw line.

Arron Afflalo converted all 10 of his free throws en route to scoring 17 points as second-seeded UCLA captured a 64-55 victory over third-seeded Pittsburgh in the West Region semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

Josh Shipp had 16 points and Darren Collison added 12 for the Bruins (29-5), who advanced to a regional final for the second straight year. Last season's national runner-up, UCLA next will face top-seeded Kansas on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four in Atlanta.

In a contest highlighted by Bruins coach Ben Howland facing off against his former team and assistant Jamie Dixon, UCLA won the matchup of defensive stalwarts by shooting 23-of-26 (88 percent) at the stripe.

It was the most free throws made for the Bruins since connecting on 24-of-31 in a 70-65 win over Southern California on February 7.

Overall, UCLA entered the matchup making just 65 percent of its attempts from the stripe.

"We really work on our free throws," Collison said. "When we come in and do our walk-through on our free time, all Coach wants us to do is work on our free throws. And these guys do a good routine and they helped us in the long run."

In comparison, Pittsburgh reached the line just 14 times, converting eight.

The performance at the line overshadowed another poor offensive showing from the field for Afflalo, who ended up 3-of-11, including 1-of-5 on 3-pointers.

"It was an offensive struggle for me personally and for the team, but in the end we are moving forward," he said. "That is a sign of my maturity and what I want to do is battle through those times when the shot is not falling, but I wanted to get to the foul line and put some sort of stat up for my team."

UCLA's leading scorer, Afflalo shot just 2-of-11 en route to scoring 10 points in the 54-49 victory over Indiana in the second round on Saturday.

Despite his struggles, Afflalo had 11 points - with four free throws - in the first half to lead the Bruins to a 32-26 lead at the half.

"They got us on the free throws, that is where he (Afflalo) made his living," Pittsburgh guard Antonio Graves said. "That is what great scorers do. We put great free-throw shooters on the line and they capitalized on it."

After the break, UCLA extended the cushion to 54-42 when two free throws by Collison capped an 8-3 run.

Although they finished 36 percent (20-of-55) from the field, the Panthers (29-8) attempted to make a charge at the end, closing to 56-51 when Levance Fields hit his second 3-pointer within a 1 1/2-minute span with 1:22 remaining.

Ronald Ramon, who finished with four 3-pointers, also had a basket from the arc in Pitt's 9-2 burst.

"We were very aware that Fields and Ramon could shoot threes," Afflalo said. "That was one of our key focuses throughout our walk-throughs and practices, to limit those guys' 3-point shots and force them to put the ball on the ground. We just had to make that adjustment, but they still made some tough shots."

However, Michael Roll answered back with a jumper from the left baseline off a pass from the penetrating Collison for a 58-51 edge with 53 seconds left.

Ramon finished with 12 points and Fields had 11 for Pittsburgh, which has lost its last four games in a regional semifinal since 2002.

"We felt like we were getting some layups, looks around the basket that did not go," Dixon said. "We did some good things. We took care of the ball. We only had 10 turnovers.

"I think we missed some shots that we normally do make but I don't want to take anything away from UCLA and their defense because they seemed to do that regularly, kind of like we do as well. You want to give credit where credit is due."

Leading scorer Aaron Gray finished four points below his season average with 10 for the Panthers, who ended up with a 33-27 disadvantage on the boards despite the presence of the 7-footer.

Prior to being hired by UCLA in 2003, Howland spent four seasons at Pitt, building the program from a middling team to the Big East Conference tournament champion.

Working under Howland for those four years was Dixon, who became the coach in the wake of his mentor's departure, guiding the Panthers to a 108-30 record and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Just like Howland, Dixon maintained the emphasis on a hard-nosed defense, making many of the UCLA players feel they were facing a mirror image.

"There are a few instances, yeah, where I recognized the play calls and the motion that they were running," Afflalo said.

"We definitely saw similarities out there tonight," Shipp said. "They played a couple new plays. Likewise for us. Overall, the effort and the intensity, it was definitely a war like we thought it would be."

Even Howland, who improved to 8-2 in the NCAA Tournament with Bruins, was not left untouched.

"It's funny, before the game it was surreal from the standpoint of our locker rooms are right across from each other, so out there I see (former Pitt player) Brandin Knight," he said. "Let me tell you something, neither I am sitting here right now, nor is Jamie the coach at Pittsburgh without Brandin Knight, when we really turned that program around seven years ago.

"I think about Julius Page and Jaron Brown. So it is emotional for me because it is a player's game. It is all about the relationships, I love those kids. I hope we never have to play again."

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    PITTSBURGH 26 29 55
    UCLA 32 32 64 FINAL

    Mar 23 12:08 AM
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    Pittsburgh vs. UCLAMar 23 12:02 AM

    (2) UCLA 32 HALFTIME

    Mar 22 10:45 PM
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